Thin Place

Lake Guntersville

February 9, 2022

In Celtic Spirituality, there is an understanding that certain places become the meeting ground between heaven and earth, the “holy ground” of Moses before the burning bush.  Such spaces are called “thin places” because the division between the holy and the ordinary disappears and the time spent there usually is fleeting.  In a thin place, all of our senses are fully awake and we are aware of that present moment only.  Sunrises and sunsets, forests and mountain tops, oceans and streams are often places that become “thin” if our eyes and ears and hearts are open.  As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven.” In these holy moments, we recognize that we have received a gift of presence from Divine Love.  May we practice opening our eyes and our hearts in a world that often trembles. Blessings ~ Rosemary

Thin Place

A bald eagle lifts from her nest to roost on a pine bough
against a cerulean sky before thrusting herself forward
over the wide expanse of lake,
while photographers turn their massive lenses
skyward, laughing and pointing in flannelled
camaraderie. A pair of brown-haired children,
coats off and sailing like kites in their hands,
race along the path past them,
their bemused mother smiling as she struggles
to keep up. Behind, a young flower-laden
couple pose with hope-filled eyes while a friend
snaps pictures of a moment never to be reclaimed
and beyond, a seasoned man and woman perch
on a bare rock, tossing bread from a wrapper
to two fat geese waddling after each crumb.
Out on the water, weightless as dandelion puffs,
five white pelicans with long yellow beaks
drift on the current of a jon boat
where a lone fisherman stands erect,
silhouetted in black by the clear afternoon
sun, his line as straight and steady
as he is. In this simple moment,
like transient etchings, heaven dissolves
into the earth, earth evaporates
into the heavens,
past and future are shut out
while all creation does what it was created
to do, and I remove my shoes
to stand on holy ground.

©  Rosemary McMahan

The Return Trip

February 2, 2022

Counting Coats

If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn’t have any.””  Luke 3:11

I consider the number of coats
I own. More than two.
Seven? Eight? Ten?
Not all coats, of course.
Some are jackets
a pink fleece
a purple raincoat.
In the checkout lane
the woman in a wind-thin
blue sweater
fumbles with food stamps
to pay for three packages
of cheap hot dogs,
a dollar short.
I turn to search
for a faster aisle
then stop and notice
the loaf of fresh bread
a bottle of good wine
that I am holding.
I pay for her hot dogs.
She turns her plain face
to me and blesses me–
not just me
but also my family
those I love.
When she leaves,
the clerk says
I’ve done something
wonderful.
I am grateful
no one is behind
me to hear her.
I blush, hurry,
leave
with a loaf of fresh bread
a bottle of good wine
and a blessing
held in the hollows
of my heart.

© Rosemary McMahan

Ever forgotten something at the grocery store, something that couldn’t wait, and so you had to circle back and make a second trip?  I found myself in that annoying situation a couple of weeks ago, grumbling to myself about the inconvenience and waste of time as I headed back.  As it turns out, though, I was meant to make this second trip.

I quickly nabbed the forgotten item, along with a bottle of wine (my condolence prize) and got in the checkout aisle.  In front of me, a woman was fumbling in her purse, trying to come up with another dollar to pay for three packages of no-brand hot dogs.  The charge was $6, and she was short the amount.  I noticed the aisle next to me was empty, and I almost moved there, when I looked at my own purchase—a loaf of freshly baked sourdough bread and a good bottle of Chardonnay.  The woman in front of me was now explaining that since it was near the end of the month, she was short on food stamps and was trying to make them stretch over the next couple of days, counting on cheap hot dogs to feed her and perhaps others.  She was about to settle on two packs when I offered to pay for all three.  She gratefully accepted.

I don’t tell this story to brag.  Six dollars is not much to me.  I am no hero.  I tell this story because this woman then turned and blessed me.  She offered a blessing for me and for those I love, for health and well-being, when she obviously needed that blessing, herself.  After she left, as I paid for my own items, the clerk told me I had done a wonderful thing.  No, I hadn’t.  I had done a human thing.

Whether you believe in God, Destiny, Fate, Karma, whatever, I believe I was sent back to that store to receive this woman’s blessing—not a blessing, be clear, that I deserved—but a gift of grace.  I think of her from time to time for she has become a kind of role model of humility and graciousness for me, and I whisper the blessing back to her.

Blessings to each of you, wherever you find yourselves.  ~ Rosemary

Photo credit: Pixabay

Wood Walking

Jan. 28, 2022

As the Covid viruses rage and mutate while people the world over tire of wearing masks, rebel against distancing, and refuse to concern themselves with others’ safety, I find myself dismayed by humanity’s loss of the Golden Rule, and I head to the woods.  I am not the first to do so “when the world is too much with us,” as William Wordsworth phrased it, so I take my path following the wisdom of others throughout the ages who sought Nature in times of turmoil. The mystery of the woods reminds me that God the Creator is still in control, that beauty and love always win the day.

Winter, as I learned last year during Covid, is a unique time to walk the woods.  With the leaves gone, each tree becomes vulnerable, exposing its true form in all its vastly odd shapes.  Nothing is growing where just short months before there was life, and barren rock formations rise up sharply against an empty space.  The birds are quiet; nothing skitters but a lone chipmunk or grey squirrel.  The wind whispers itself cold on my face.  Yet here I find delight.  I find peace.  Here I spot the Creator’s whimsy, the Creator’s smile, the chuckle and affirmation, in the midst of a trembling world.  Our souls were made for beauty; the Creator knows this, and in the woods, obliges.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary

Wood Walking

The end of January, the weight
of pandemic and politics as heavy
as blizzard snow, I take to the woods,
down an empty path
made by sojourners before me.
The sky, a swath of painted winter blue,
a hard and vivid hue, is canvas to limb
after charcoal limb reaching upwards,
each turn of branch, each sliver of twig,
an intimate etching. A sparse yet green
Resurrection Fern holds tight
in mid-January in a wash
of pale winter sun while
a slender tree stands bare except
for a smattering of Turkey Tail fungi,
fringed in blue and gray, forming
a face on the rutted bark:
two eyes with brows, a nose,
a mouth. I nod and say “hello”
in passing.
Rounding the corner, I catch sight
of a kissing tree, or so I name it,
where a canker has formed and is
pressed hard against a lichen-
mottled limestone outcrop
in a touch of lips. I turn away
and walk, delighted by icy clusters of
long dagger-like icicles clinging
to the edge of a leaf-littered
ledge in 50-degree weather.
How can this be? A snake-green vine
encircles a tree and climbs upward
in embrace, too realistic to touch.
I step over slender roots scattered
upon the way like skeleton bones,
mindful not to break one. As evening falls,
multitudes of bare branches
in naked vulnerability
shift and weave themselves
into intricate netting that traps
the day’s last pink rays,
while God laughs in the garden
of delight.

© Rosemary McMahan

If I Could Do it Over

January 13, 2022

Years ago, in another life, I met Amy Tunick at the beginning of my freshman year in college.  In those brief nine months, the two of us, so very different (I, then, a Roman Catholic from a small town who wanted to be a writer; she, a secular Jew from Miami who wanted to be an actor) bonded in such a way that when we chose different directions after that year, we stayed in touch over the next fifteen. The majority of the time, Amy initiated the contact, perhaps because she was single and I quickly became a young mother, or because she was the better friend.

Ours was that kind of relationship where time stopped and we were back at school, Freshmen girls trying to find our way, never missing a beat.  Amy, the extrovert, always had an outrageous story to tell yet was fascinated in hearing about what I considered my mundane life.  Amy, full of questions, full of curiosity, full of joy.  She never did become the actor she hoped for, though she was proud that hers was the voice of one of the Care Bears.

In her 40’s, Amy was diagnosed to the surprise and horror of all with pancreatic cancer.  Her doctor gave her six months to live.  Because she was Amy, she lived 31 more. She wrote a book during this time, pictured above, chronicling her illness and treatments with joy and positivity.  Here is what she wrote about friends:

“If you have a special friend or two that you know will be there for you during difficult times, someone who won’t run away or abandon you, consider yourself very lucky.  In order to have a friend, you have to be one.  Nurture and cherish your friendships.  Feed them so they can grow and blossom.  Friendship is a gift.”

Yes, friendship is a gift.  I was given a very special gift in Amy, and I took it for granted.  I share this blog because I regret with all my heart that my “busy” life, pre-occupations, and physical distance between us kept me from being there for her in her hardest transitions.  I am forever thankful that she had friends and family who did show up for her.  Today would have been Amy’s 63rd birthday.  Each birthday that has passed since Amy died at 47, I have felt my regret and offered it to her.  Knowing Amy, she has gathered those regrets to her and turned them into an armful of roses.

Be a friend to your friends. ~ Rosemary

If I Could Do It Over

In memory of Amy Turner Tunick

If I could do it over,

I would be a better friend

to you who called with news:

cancer of the pancreas. 

At 45.

Women weren’t supposed to get it.

I sympathized.  Worried.  Prayed.

But you were there  and   I was here.

I would call more often,

if I could do it over,

send more Hallmarks, a Care Bear,

ox-eye daisies.  Two Capricorns,

our favorite month was January

when the long-distance between us

dissolved in girlish conversation.

You, forever single and wandering,

me, forever married and rooted,

we admired the fabled grass

on the other side

of each other’s fences.

I’d paint a verbal picture of you

for all the world to hear,

if I could do it over,

Amy with your blonde-streaked wigs

and Serenity Prayer

Amy with your vegan lifestyle and

your fuchsia scarves,

Amy with your ebony and white

toy poodles.

I would pay mind to the passing months,

flying by like geese in formation,

constant and ordained,

if I could do it over        and

I wouldn’t bury myself in mid-life

passages, turning inward, ignoring the urging

of my heart that never forgot you.

I wouldn’t receive the news from your mother

in a letter    because I would know

I would know that in the final months

the tumor grew,

if I could do it over,

would know that your brave fight and bright Spirit

had no choice but to surrender.

I would be with you at your bedside,

with your family, dear friends, and new beau.

I would tell an old story, hold your slender hand,

make you laugh

one more time

as you journeyed home

through this universe

that you believed

“is unfolding as it should.”

© Rosemary McMahan

Don’t Let the Light Go Out

January 6, 2022

“Pointing to another world will never stop vice among us; shedding light over this world can alone help us.” Walt Whitman

In the Christian tradition, January 6 marks the Feast of the Epiphany, the moment that the Christ-Child was recognized by those beyond his small world and so made universal. Astrologers, we are told, followed a star that led them to the home where the Light was alive. Their gifts not only identified him (gold for a king) and frankincense (incense for a priest) but also prophesied the shadows in his future: myrrh, an embalming ointment, symbolizing his death.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Desmond Tutu

In tragic irony, January 6, 2021, was the date chosen by those who planned and carried out the assault on the Capitol Building of the United States of America. It was the bleakest day of my life, and the images are seared in my mind as much as those of the crumbling twin towers. This assault came from within, from hatred and anger. This assault shattered my naive belief in the “united” states and threatened the gift and privilege of democracy while also marring a feast day that I have celebrated since a child, a feast day of Light.

“An age is called ‘dark’ not because the light fails to shine but because people refuse to see it.” James Michener

On social media, a woman commented recently that we should forget the assault, ignore its anniversary, because it overshadows both Epiphany and her husband’s birthday. “Overshadowing” is exactly why we need to remember January 6, 2021 because we continue to be overshadowed by lies, deceit, conspiracies, hate, and violence. We need the Light, however and whoever we perceive it to be, in the darkness of this present time where the King Herods of the world are intent on destroying anything or anyone that threatens their power. We need to be the light.

“Light. Light. The visible reminder of Invisible Light.” T.S. Elliot

The only action I know to take this day of solemn, sorrowful, and painful remembrance and this day of recognizing joy, light, and love in our world is to light candles, everywhere I can, to pay homage to the Light, to recommit myself to it, to light whatever candle of truth, peace, justice that may dwell within me.

“Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.” Alfred Delp

I had researched several more quotations about light to include in this blog, but instead will leave with this link to an old, and so relevant, song by Peter, Paul, and Mary: Light One Candle. Their words speak much more eloquently than mine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTRfVnygo1U

Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts

May it be so. Blessings ~ Rosemary

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

2022:  Yes!

January 1, 2022

“For all that has been, thank you.  For all that is to come, yes!” ~ Dag Hammarskjöld

This morning, on the dawn of another new year, it is challenging to say “thank you” for all that has been, especially over these last two years.  How do we say “thank you” for an ongoing global pandemic, riotous politics and social upheavals, dissension and violence, lost jobs and opportunities, catastrophic natural disasters, a wounded and dying planet?  To say those two words requires a certain boldness; to find some kind of meaning in the midst of all of the turbulence requires a theology in something—or someone—larger than us.  For me, I am thankful to be alive.  I am thankful that my loved ones have thus far survived.  I am thankful that I realize that these blessings have nothing to do with me but with gift, gratis, grace from whatever name we choose for Universe/God/Other.

While saying “thank you” may be difficult, saying “Yes!” to 2022 may even be more demanding, may even require a bit of ledge-stepping.  Someone recently posted on Facebook that 2022 is pronounced “2020, too.”  What a dismal thought!  Yet, not impossible.  To get to the yes takes some courage, along with, again, boldness.  An artist friend of mine defined being “bold” as: “Bold to ask for what you truly want. Bold to share your humble art. It’s not linear but exponential blessings- pressed down, shaken together and running over!”  Yes!

We’ve all been at a place in our lives where what we had thought would be wasn’t.  Disappointment is one of the first realities we experience.  It is so often easier to grieve over what didn’t happen, to take our toys and go home, or to envy the lives of others, rather than to accept our own lives, our own situations and choices, as they are, where we are, where God is.  Now.  This acceptance is not passive or a type of giving up; it is a challenge to accept those things that cannot be changed, while also an invitation to embrace the life that is ours and make something of it. “Yes” is an action word.

So, I am looking 2022 in the eye and declaring a resounding YES!  My “humble art” includes this blog and my poetry.  Others may be/are better, more successful, more published.  My handful of followers may be few, but I say “yes” to each precious one of them:  yes to showing up, yes to creating, yes to sharing, yes to being thankful for them, yes to this unique life that is mine.  Imagine a world full of YES. I hope that you will add the power of your “yes” to mine.

Blessings for health, peace, and joy in 2022!  ~ Rosemary

New Year 2022

Birds gather at the feeder
on this heavy dismal New Year’s
Day, the sky a swath of leaden
gray: black-capped chickadee,
peach-breasted titmouse, sleek-headed
nuthatch, fat red finch, ladder-backed
woodpecker, even a curious
mourning dove hopeful for
spilled seed. The cardinal,
a scarlet flame against the sullen
sky, nudges each one aside
as he claims his kingdom.
From time to time, a red-tailed
hawk with eager eye glides
over the leafless trees
taking stock
and the flock scatters
in a flash of wings,
only to return, one at a time,
to perch on a slick branch
each awaiting its turn
for the black-polished seed,
its resolute “yes” to life,
my “yes” as well.

© Rosemary McMahan

Photo credit: Pixabay

O Antiphons ~ Emmanuel

December 23, 2021

O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the one whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.

Two days before Christmas, in this Advent season of waiting and longing, the seventh, and final, name for the Christ (or Light, or Love, if you prefer) proclaimed in the ancient prayer-song of the O Antiphons is found in Isaiah 7:14:   Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

Emmanuel:  “God with us.”  Of the four stories of the Christ, the good news of the gospels, Matthew and Luke are the two evangelists that include the birth story, and their telling is quite different from each other.  In Matthew’s narrative, “God with us” comes in the midst of a Roman occupation with an unwanted male infant that King Herod tries to kill and so must be hidden.  “God with us” occurs in dreams that lead Joseph to take his family to Egypt and wisemen to disobey Herod’s orders and “go another way.”  Jesus, the Christ, becomes “God with us” as the new Moses who will lead God’s people not out of Egypt but out of themselves and into the Light.

For Luke, “God with us” appears to the least likely—to an old woman and a teenaged girl, second class citizens, and to shepherds, third class citizens, made unclean by Jewish standards because of their care of dirty animals.  “God with us” is the one who walks among the least of us, the poor and powerless, and surprises the faithful and long-waiting, Simeon and Anna.  “God with us” meets us exactly where we are, as we are, with love and compassion, mercy and longing.  “God with us” means we are never again alone.

Prayer:  O Emmanuel, as the day of your birth draws close, help us to be still enough to receive you.  Whenever we see a candle burn, a light on a tree sparkle, outside decorations glow, let us take those sights as reminders of your Light and Love upon us and upon everyone.  Guide us out of ourselves and toward you, and help us to be Light-bearers to those who live in darkness, those who need to know both peace and joy. You are with us and within us, and so we can rejoice, even now.  May it be so.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

If you would like to listen to this prayer-song, here is a link to the artist Lauren Daigle’s version:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGw0QK6ICZA.

Blessings of joy and peace to you.  ~  Rosemary

Photo credit Pixabay

O Antiphons ~  King of Nations

December 22, 2021

O King of Nations, whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and deliver the creature you fashioned from the dust of the earth.

Three days before the birth of the Light, in the O Antiphons, the ancient prayer-song of waiting and expectation, the sixth title given to the Christ (or Light, or Love, if you prefer) is King of Nations, based on the prophecy found in Isaiah 2:4: He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Here is the title for Christ/Light/Love with which I most struggle because Jesus, whoever we believe him to be, never asked to be a king.  Born in humble surroundings to a teenaged blue collar girl in the midst of an occupied country, Jesus demonstrated that same humbleness his entire life.  Whenever people expected him to be king, to wage war, to conquer the Romans, to lift up sword, he did exactly the opposite.  Whenever people wanted to name him king, he always pointed above to God, never to himself.  Because he would not succumb to the lure and power of being an earthly king, he was crucified.

As I ponder the kingship of Jesus this Advent, I realize that Christians worldwide, often including myself, have taken the easier road of putting Jesus on a throne and worshiping him as king rather than accepting his invitation to follow him in servanthood and humility as a disciple.  If we did indeed truly follow King Jesus, then his kingdom would indeed be coming about: 

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 9: 6-11)

Prayer:  O King of Nations, as we long for your coming, for your light and your love, help us to realize that we are the ones you have invited to make your kingdom a reality.  So many of us still expect you to be a king who invades this world to “sets things right” as we passively watch, and yet that is not what you proclaimed.  If you are truly born in our hearts, then we will follow you—not just worship you–in creating a world where there is no hurt, destruction, war, or injustice.  Help us to understand the true nature of your servant-kingship and to accept your invitation to follow.  May it be so.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@gmail.com

O Antiphons ~ Radiant Dawn

December 21, 2021

O Radiant Dawn, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Four days before the birth of the Light, on this Winter Solstice, in the O Antiphons, the ancient prayer-song of waiting and expectation, the fifth title given to the Christ (or Light, or Love, if you prefer) is Radiant Dawn.  Of the seven names that compose the antiphons, this one, based again on the words of the prophet Isaiah, resonates most with me:  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

Last year at this same time, as Covid was killing off thousands of people around the globe and vaccinations were not yet available, we were all living in deep darkness, indeed.  I wrote daily blogs about the presence of the Light and encouraged myself and others to “Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are” (Fr. Alfred Delp, martyred by the Nazis).  Here we are, a solid year later, still in the midst of pandemic, of political unrest, of inequality, of doubts and fears that persist throughout the years.  Yet still, through the darkness, the Light does shine.  It happens every single day as the sun rises on us once more, offering the grace of new beginnings.  We have been given another day to shine, to be courageous enough to light our candles.

Who needs our light?  It could be the person behind us in the check-out line, the exhausted mother trying to live up to holiday expectations, the child hurt by that same mother’s impatience, an Uber driver, the friend saying goodbye to a beloved pet, the person facing a first Christmas without a loved one, the one with whom we live daily.  Or maybe it is us.  Light shines in any form of compassion.

“The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5).  This is a promise, a reality, and a gift for all of us.  Together, may we reflect the Light across the world.

Prayer:  O Radiant Dawn, each day when the sun crests the horizon, you offer us another day of life.  Help us not to take that gift for granted but to celebrate it.  Show us how to shine our own lights, no matter how small or insignificant we may think they are, on a world dwelling in fear and sorrow.  Let our lights be beams of love that fall on those who sit in any kind of darkness, and may we each be open to receiving your Light.  May it be so.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary       20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Photo credit Pixabay

O Antiphons ~ Key of David

December 20, 2021

O Key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captives from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Five days before the birth of the Light, in the O Antiphons, the ancient prayer-song of waiting and expectation, the fourth title given to the Christ (or Light, or Love, if you prefer) is Key of David, as described in Isaiah 22:22:  I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. 

What do keys do?  They open doors.  And, they lock doors.  Keys are symbolic of power and ownership.  To have a key to something is to have the authority to access it.  To own a key enables us, both literally and figuratively, to let someone in or keep someone out.

In this season of longing, I acknowledge the feelings (captives) I have locked in my heart–former wounds, fresh hurts, old records, new disappointments– that might be preventing me from unlocking the door to Love and Light and to others, and I lift them like rising candle smoke. Some have languished in that dark prison a long time; others are just arriving. Keys are powerful. How we use them matters. On my own, I cannot turn the key to release them, but I can lift my desire for Grace to do so.

Prayer: O Key of David, the promise you carry is that you will unlock the doors that hold our captives in darkness, that you will set them free, and so set us free. We pray for all those who hold keys to power and privilege to turn toward your Light and hand you their keys. We pray for ourselves, as well, knowing those captives that need to be let out of the darkness and into your Light. O come, O come, and empower us to trust you with our keys. May it be so.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Blessings to you ~ Rosemary 20rosepoet20@gmail.com

Picture credit Pixabay